Italy · Uncategorized · Wine

Wine Tasting and Touring in Southern Tuscany

I fell off the map for awhile!  Ever since we took this trip to Italy in November, things got crazy busy.  We dealt with the holidays (and a quick Xmas trip back to Dallas to see my parents), then sold our house in Dallas and had to be out of it completely in less than 3 weeks, then we found a house here in Florida and we close on it on March 3.  Plus, working full time too.  It’s been exhausting and the next few months will be equally busy getting unpacked and decorating our new house but I haven’t forgotten about my little vacation blog.

Anyway, we ended up having a wonderful trip to Italy last November where we visited Rome, Southern Tuscany and Florence.  Hands down my favorite part of the trip was Southern Tuscany.  We stayed in the small village of Montepulciano, which is located in the Val D’Orcia area of Tuscany, which is south of Florence and the more famous Chianti region.  I’ll post separately about Montepulciano and our lovely boutique hotel there later.  On the second day of our stay we booked a private driver with Andiamo! Tours to take us around to visit some of the other beautiful villages in the area and to visit two wineries to taste the local Brunello and Vino Nobile wines. I can highly recommend Andiamo! Tours, which is run by a local Tuscan, Lello, and his wife, Simona.

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View of Montepulciano where we stayed for 3 days

Simona picked us up at 9am in Montepulciano and we were off. Our first stop was the gorgeous hill town of Pienza.  This adorable village was the filming location for many scenes in the movie The English Patient.  We had about an hour to kill here so we walked around the village, visited the cathedral and then walked the back ramparts of the town for some of the most amazing views of the Val D’Orcia.

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Narrow lanes of Pienza
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Cathedral of Pienza (Santa Maria) – dates back to 1462
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Interior of Pienza Cathedral
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Steve at the town well in the main plaza
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Pienza’s main plaza and bell tower

Pienza is also known for its shops selling the famous and delicious pecorino cheese, which is the cheese used in cacio e pepe pasta (my favorite pasta dish).  The best part of the visit was the views, though.

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Pecorino cheese shop in Pienza
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Views of the Val D’Orcia from Pienza (end scenes of the movie Gladiator were filmed here)
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Steve and I enjoying the views
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We had great weather this day (it rained quite a bit the other two days)

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Tuscan scenery blew me away

After Pienza we drove towards the town of Montalcino, which is where Brunello wine is grown and we did a tour, tasting and lunch at Le Ripi winery, which is a biodynamic winery with several Brunellos. The views from this winery were amazing as well.  Brunello wines are 100% sangiovese and are grown only in this one tiny area, which makes these red wines rich, soft and luscious.  We thoroughly enjoyed learning about this grape and the biodynamic growing process (they harvest based on lunar cycles and grow certain other plants near the vines, etc…a little voo-doo-like but it seems to work).

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View from Le Ripi Winery
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Views from Le Ripi Winery

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Barrels in the cellar

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After the tour we had lunch in the tasting room where we sampled 5 wines, had local charcuterie and pecorino cheeses and some salad and lasagna made with all local ingredients and vegetables

Following Le Ripi, we stopped by the hill town of Montalcino, which was gorgeous but completely deserted this time of year.  According to our guide, the streets of Montalcino during summer are wall to wall people where you can barely move so it was nice to visit the town with no one around but all the shops and wine tasting rooms were closed.  Pooh.

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Montalcino
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Loved the narrow alleyways – the town was empty!
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Montalcino

We spent about 45 minutes in Montalcino just walking around and then swung by the lovely and peaceful Sant’Antimo Abbey, which was built around 1120.  The last Benedictine monk passed away just the other year so it is no longer a functioning abbey but it is open to visitors and they grow olives and sell the oil here.  No pictures were allowed inside but it was a very austere stone interior and they play Gregorian chants inside so it was quite haunting.

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Sant’Antimo Abbey
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Ground of the Abbey and its well
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Benedictine cat
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Olive trees on abbey grounds
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View of a nearby village from the abbey

Our last stop of the day was Boscarelli winery, which was near our home village of Montepulciano, for a tasting of Vino Nobile wines.  Vino Nobile wines must be at least 70% sangiovese and then have some other red grapes blended in and are only grown in this area near Montepulciano.  They tend to be big, dark, heavier wines similar to a syrah or cabernet sauvignon, IMO.  I didn’t get any good photos as it was getting dark by the time we got there.

Needless to say, we had a fantastic day and the weather was perfect for us.  I had high expectations for Tuscany, including the scenery, and they were definitely exceeded.  Steve and I definitely plan a return visit and would love to visit Chianti as well.

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Wonderful day touring and tasting in Tuscany
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Loved the views here

 

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